When I was growing up, we got our ice out of little refillable metal trays. You’d crack the frozen cubes free by pulling the center metal lever, adjusting the tray’s spine like a chiropractor.
Our dishwasher was so loud that when it changed cycles you thought a semitruck was in the kitchen shifting gears. Our gas stove had visible flames as pilot lights, which more than once singed the ends of my then long hair.
How did we survive those dark ages? Today, freezers can dispense a variety of ice types on demand: cubed, crushed, extra clear and craft ice (large cubes or spheres that take longer to water down your drink). Dishwashers are so quiet you might accidentally open one midcycle because you don’t hear it running. Induction cooktops invisibly and flamelessly heat pans and their contents and nothing else.
This is the world I stepped into last week when my husband and I went shopping for new kitchen appliances. DC and I are in the budget-building, what-are-we-in-for stage of a kitchen remodel, gearing up for a project sure to wreak havoc on our home, our finances and our marriage. Since when has that stopped me?
Actually, we make a surprisingly good team. He cares about costs and performance. I care about looks.
As we made our bewildered way through an appliance store the size of Costco (minus the bargains), we ran into a guy who didn’t actually work there, but who clearly knew his way around the kitchen, a quality I like in a man. Bob Luyckx, a territory sales manager for Sub-Zero Group, was there meeting with a chef. Probably because DC and I looked like besieged lost wanderers, he asked if we had any questions.
So many questions flew to my jumbled mind, I made a guttural sound like a spoon in the garbage disposal. Fortunately, DC was articulate and asked something appropriate, like what’s new in cooktops.
Luyckx lit up like a gas range. He took us to a cooktop on display. It had a pan of water sitting on a cold burner. He turns the burner on. The water boils fast, then he puts his finger right on the burner, right next to the pan.
Are you nuts? I’m thinking.
“Induction,” he says, beaming. “The heat engages only with the pan itself, so it doesn’t throw away heat around the sides of the pan like gas or electric burners. Do you want to try?” He steps aside to let me touch the burner.
“Nah, I’m good,” I say, backing away.
Although induction heat has been around since the 1940s, over the last 10 years, prices have come down so that this efficient cooking method is in reach of the average consumer. “This is great news for people with electric stoves,” he said.
“Well, we’re looking for a gas cooktop,” I said, “but do you have a card?”
The next day, I call Luyckx, who has been selling kitchen appliances for 30 years. I grill him about what other advancements have happened in kitchen appliances in the past decade.
He opens by saying that in addition to the COVID effect, which made even the most reluctant home cooks care more about their kitchens, TV cooking shows have really made homeowners want to have more control and more professional looking appliances. Here’s what else he said is cooking in today’s kitchens:
• More cooking control. While induction cooktops offer more precision for those using electric-powered stoves, premium gas cooktops are offering better control through dual-stack flame burners. These offer two rings of fire instead of one, giving cooks higher performance on both the high-heat side and the low-simmer side, he said.
• Quieter dishwashers. For years, those buying dishwashers have been looking for quiet, quiet, quiet, Luyckx said. Now they can get it. “Today you can buy a mid-range dishwasher in the mid 40-decibel range, which is like a library,” he said. Note, because of how decibels measure sound, a 50-decibel dishwasher is actually two times louder than a 40-decibel dishwasher. The quietest ones on the market are 38 or 39 decibels. The one I had growing up, he confirmed, was in the 60-decibel range.
• Not everything’s better. Because appliances must meet ever-stricter energy standards, some have lost function. Some new dishwashers don’t dry as well as the old ones, and refrigerators have lost some of their usable space as their walls have gotten thicker to improve insulation.
• Increased connectivity. Smart appliances are letting owners connect with smart devices, meaning that as you leave work you can remotely preheat the oven and ask your freezer to make more ice. Some refrigerators have internal cameras, so when you’re at the grocery store you can see if you’re out of eggs.
• Super ovens. Homeowners are swapping out their built-in microwaves for ovens that are microwave, convection and steam ovens in one, Luyckx said. These versatile ovens heat up faster than standard radiant heat ovens. “If you want to reheat leftovers, and not have them taste like reheated leftovers,” he said, “you want a steam oven.”
• Better looks. For me, the best changes are cosmetic. Branding is less obvious, so you can mix appliances from different makers without launching a logo war in your kitchen. Controls are hidden or more discreet,.
Many of today’s kitchen appliances can also integrate right into the cabinetry, meaning refrigerators and dishwashers literally fade into the woodwork.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One.” Reach her at marnijameson.com.